A figurative sculpture in
serpentine stone from the historic Tengenenge sculpture farm
in northern Zimbabwe on display in the capital.
The historic stone art of Tengenenge, a region located in northern
Zimbabwe, may be barely 40 years old but it is breaching high-end
ethnic boutique art and home accessories bastions across the
A collection of 50 abstract Zimbabwean sculptures crafted in
serpentine, high-density hard smooth black stone, spring stone and
opal is in India after more than two decades to be sold as
collectibles, drawing room, corporate and institutional art.
The collection, "The Tengenenge Story" brought to India by the
Incentive Foundation opened at the Regalia Gallery in Gurgaon this
The display-cum-sale is an attempt by Indophile Mon Van Der Biest,
a Belgian art promoter and the Incentive Foundation to promote
African ethnic art in India and familiarise Indian collectors and
art lovers with the diversity of sculptural art around the world
in the context of the histories that have shaped their evolution,
said Anup Nair, the managing director of Incentive Foundation.
The modern Shona Sculptural Art Movement of the ethnic lot of
Zimbabwe (known as Shona people) began to carve a new identity for
itself in the 1950s when the first director of the National
Gallery of Zimbabwe (The Rhodes Art Gallery), Frank McEwen,
encouraged African artists to craft in soapstone.
"After the 1960s' tobacco crash (failure of tobacco crop and
sale), a Dutch tobacco farmer in Zimbabwe, Tom Blomefield, in 1966
advised his farm hands at Tengenenge, 150 km north of Harare near
Guruve, to switch to sculpting with serpentine, an ancient stone
found three feet below the surface soil. Blomefield said his
farmers had to survive and ensure that the farm could tide the
tobacco melt," Nair told IANS.
The rocks for sculpting were sourced from the great Zimbabwean
dyke of serpentine and the harder springstone.
The new livelihood whip prompted a miracle as farmers, tobacco
graders and tractor drivers like Bernard Matemera, Sylvester
Mubayi and Henry Munyaradzi metamorphosed into prize-winning Shona
sculptures at the Tengenenge Sculpture Comminity.
Bernard Matemara, a former tractor driver at Blomefield's farm,
was honoured by the New Delhi-based Lalit Kala Akademi at its
triennale in 1986.
Blomefield, who was well-connected in the West, pushed the art
beyond the frontiers of Zimbabwe to Europe. He exhibited
sculptures from his farm at galleries in the Netherlands where it
caught the imagination of the European and American art
The art and its exponents have since travelled around the world.
The "Tengenenge Story" is directly linked to the new Shona
Sculpture movement on Blomsfield's historic farm.
All the sculptures have been assembled from the Tengenenge
Sculpture Community by Indophile Mon Van Der Viest in the course
of his visits to Zimbabwe, thanks to the friendship he struck with
The Belgian, three of whose children are adopted Indians, later
decided to part with his Tengenenge collection to the New
Delhi-Incentive Foundation to raise money for children's welfare
in a village near Gurgaon, Nair said.
The art on display is mostly of women and elephants; two motifs
that connect to India. The style is abstract and the lines are
fluid; almost mobile in their unfettered detailed flow.
On a giant screen inside the gallery, an 80-year-old Blomefield
speaks of his experiment with Shona sculpture on his farm in a new
documentary on the art of Tengenenge.
"I had a dream that one day I'd be an artist," Blomefield said.
The art of Tengenenge - which in African means the "beginning of
the beginning" - is an offshoot of Shona art, the traditional
visual culture of Zimbabwe.
The Shona culture revolves round an eclectic cache of solid art
carved from single blocks of rare stones like serpentine,
soapstone and springstone found in abundance in the area.
Dating back to stone age, first in the form of rock paintings and
then pottery, the Shona art found scattered around the ancient
settlement sites in the country show a high degree of skilled
craftsmanship and aesthetics.
The motifs are distinctly African drawn from everyday life, the
rituals of the ethnic agrarain people who inhabited the land and
their totemic religion.
However, over the years the Zimbabwean art has changed in
sensibility with colonisation and the influence of Western
aesthetics to become modern; without breaking away from its
Women, mother, man-woman, children and elephants recur in a
variety of chiselled shapes, compositions and schools of thoughts
ranging from realism to abstraction.
The collectibles are priced between Rs.5,000 to Rs.26,000.
The showcase will close Sep 15.
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)